Royal Lake: If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Quick disclaimer:  Though there are some pretty pictures in it, this post doesn't have really anything to do with photography.  I hope you'll indulge me for a moment, but if not, just scroll down.  There's photo stuff down there somewhere. You know, I honestly don't believe there's anything in the contiguous US (and I've seen a great deal of it) that rivals the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  Nevertheless, it's been a long time since I've gone camping and even longer since I've been backpacking.  Earlier this month, though, in the always wonderful company of my visiting friend Melissa, I stuck my tent, some food, and my camera into a pack and we ferried over to the Olympic Peninsula.  Our online research led us to believe that the Royal Basin trail to Royal Lake would be a beautiful and not terribly arduous hike, so we went for it.  We kept it short, going just for an overnight stay.  And because we went on a weekday, we passed very few other hikers on the trail and had the lake almost completely to ourselves (somewhere there was another couple who showed up sometime after we did).  It was ideal, and if you like the outdoors even a little bit, you should go.  Really, you should.  Here are some photos, because I can't begin to do it justice with words.

Royal Lake is small and stunning, and the water is like crystal.

Incredibly, this was the view from our campsite.  The lake's many gleeful fish never stopped jumping.

To be honest, I felt a little like jumping too.  Melissa took this photo.

This little rush of snow melt was a very short walk from the campsite, and we stopped to collect some drinking water for the next day.  Remember, kids: always purify your water!

The animals didn't seem to mind us at all.  We walked right up to deer.  Innumerable mice scurried and played in a twisted mess of branches and brush.  Chipmunks got out of our way, but they took their time about it.  Okay, so the toads hopped around as fast as they could—they were actually pretty terrified.  But this goat seemed more curious than anything.  Melissa spotted him from across the lake in the morning, and I bounded off to find him.  I got quite close—foolishly close, probably, given the reputation for their temperament (although this guy seemed awfully gentle)—and then he headed up the trail to visit Melissa at our tent.

I had to include this close crop because...well, look at him.  Seriously, how great is he?  Are you kidding?!  Melissa dubbed him a magical mountain pony, because she thought that was what he looked like from across the lake.

Speaking of across the lake, that's our tent there on that little ledge.  Idyllic.

As we circled the lake in the morning, the sky began to cloud over.

And then, on our way back to the tent from a huge waterfall about a half mile away, we were caught in a storm of hail.  Luckily, we were standing right next to an emergency shelter and were invited in by a very nice girl named Nadya, who was in the middle of a two-week backpacking trip.  She made us some tea and shared her three-berry cobbler with us as we waited for the storm to pass.

New friends!  Nadya, me, and Melissa.

Royal Lake might be even more beautiful after a storm.

The walk back down.  We were rained on a little, but the tree canopy kept us mostly dry.

The way home.

I didn't get any photos of it, but I have to share the most amazing part of the trip—for me, at least.  I'm from Wisconsin, where thunderstorms are common in the summer months.  I mean serious, ominous, end-of-the-world type thunderstorms.  The kind that take down power lines and venerable oaks, and rattle the windows of your house.  The kind that sometimes make you wonder if you'll get out alive.  There's probably no way I can make anyone understand how much I love a good storm raging at night, but to me there's nothing so cozy as curling up during a power outage while lightning explodes in the sky and thunder threatens your total annihilation—it's an absolute dream.  Regrettably, the city of Seattle doesn't get thunderstorms, and I miss them very much.  Occasionally a little flash of lightning and a pitiable clap of thunder will accompany the usual rain here, and everyone in town will get worked up over it ("Did you hear the thunderstorm last night?!").  I just roll my eyes.

The weather forecast for our two days on the peninsula promised us temperatures in the low 70s and mostly sunny skies, but as evidenced in the photos, they kind of screwed the pooch on the second day.  Though the early morning was sunny, the transition to rougher weather closer to noon—the hail and rain—began the night before.  At about midnight, Melissa and I were jerked from sleep by lightning that for an instant here and there made it daytime inside the tent.  I didn't hear thunder at first, but the rain tapping on the tent and the flashes in the sky made me feel warm, cozy, and really quite giddy.  Then the thunder came, distant at first and quiet, a low rumble.  And then, over the course of fifteen or twenty minutes, it built to a fantastic, blaring, shattering (and frankly slightly frightening) storm that lasted a delightfully long time.  It took me back to Wisconsin summers, and as I lay there with Melissa under our sleeping bag blanket I remembered Kurt Vonnegut and thought, as he always urged us all to do on such occasions, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."